When COVID came

We’ve been pretty careful. At least I have. I really haven’t had to try very hard since I’ve been working from home for over a year now and the places I’ve gone with any frequency include outside (for walks,) the grocery store, and Target.

Jack, on the other hand, goes to work everyday, with a fair number of coworkers who believe we’re being duped about the severity of COVID and who try not to wear their masks as often as they can get away with it. Jack also tells me there are hand-sanitizer dispensers all over the place at work, but which are generally empty. He’s not diligent about using hand-sanitizer anyway. I can tell because the small bottle he keeps in his truck has been there for the better part of a year without needing to be refilled.

Who knows from where it really came? Jack might have picked it up at work, from a gas pump, after touching a keypad at the home improvement store. Maybe one of our kids carried it into the house. The fact remains that Jack got COVID.

He’d had a medical procedure the Wednesday before Easter. The following day, he started having chills and feeling under the weather. His paperwork from the procedure had explained he might experience chills and fever afterwards, so we didn’t think much of it at first. The doctor called the day after the procedure to give Jack his test results. (All good.) Jack told the doctor about his chills and was advised to keep an eye on things but the doctor wasn’t too concerned.

On Friday Jack stayed home from work. On Saturday he was really miserable. He got an Urgency Room appointment on Easter Sunday. And he came home with a COVID diagnosis.

All I can say is thank God he’d already had his first dose of the vaccine two weeks prior to getting sick. Jack is immunocompromised and having one dose under his belt may be the only reason he didn’t have breathing issues. And things were bad enough as it was. My poor husband stayed in the bedroom for eight days straight, in the dark, sleeping or just laying there in misery. He got out of bed only to use the restroom a few feet away and would be winded by the time he got back into bed. During this entire time, he never once turned on a television or any screen. This is how I knew how bad it was. If you knew my husband and his love of screens, you’d have been worried too.

I managed to keep him drinking as much as possible so he’d stay hydrated, but he barely ate a thing for at least a week, and I’m sure he’s lost at least a few pounds by now. He’d tell you he had a few to spare, but worst diet ever!

On the ninth day Jack turned the slightest corner and came out of the bedroom. I have never been so relieved in my life! Knowing he was past the worst of it and the breathing struggles weren’t going to happen lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. For the past week since then, Jack has remained at home, mostly just laying on the couch watching television and still pretty weak, but eating a bit more and seeming more every day like his old self.

It was scary. A few well-meaning family and friends who work in the medical field advised about when I should watch for Jack to start having trouble breathing. I think that was the hardest part – being on the watch for truly dire straits. Thankfully, the worst never transpired. And we were supported by so many who offered to drop off groceries or do anything we needed doing, or just sent well-wishes and prayers. We didn’t really need anyone to do anything. InstaCart and Amazon made it easy to get anything we might need pretty easily. But it was nice to know people wanted to help.

Jack is now on the road to recovery and received his second dose of the vaccine yesterday. (Poor guy was told to expect the side-effects today to hit harder than normal due to receiving the shot after having had COVID.)

In the midst of Jack’s worst days, I got vaccinated myself (with the one-and-done version.) I felt slightly under the weather for the better part of a week, mainly having a loss of appetite and shedding a few pounds myself. But today I am confident we are on our way back to normalcy and I am so very grateful.

Winter at the Cabin

For years, Jack and I struggled to make time to go to his family’s cabin in the summers. We’ve always loved to go to the lake, but we had kids in sports for many years which meant that evenings and weekends often found us sitting and cheering at a ball field. Jack’s job was sometimes a roadblock as well with its rotating schedule that kept him at work every other weekend. Then my parents’ health began failing and their need for help became a priority over up-north escapes.

But the years passed by, the kids grew up, my parents passed on, and Jack’s work situation changed. Suddenly we had time again to get away to the lake, to unplug, to commune with nature and simply enjoy the peaceful surroundings of my father-in-law’s happy place. We have made a true effort to get there more often lately, to make use of it and help manage the upkeep the way Jack’s dad would have wanted us to do.

The cabin is a rustic dwelling and lacks many of the conveniences we enjoy at home. To be honest, that’s part of its charm. It’s small but it has a big farm table to accommodate the large extended family. There’s no cable television, (so get outside and play!) The rooms are few but there are many places to sleep. Just don’t expect any privacy. There’s no central air conditioning; just a small window unit used only on those days when the air is truly stifling and it’s too hot to sleep. There’s no furnace, but there’s a small stove to heat things up in the fall when the guys gather for hunting trips.

Jack and I have never gone to the cabin in the winter. The conveniences are even fewer during the cold and snowy months. Since the cabin isn’t occupied on a regular basis, the water and heat are shut off after hunting season. That’s not to say that we can’t go in the winter. It just takes a more effort. It takes a couple of hours for the cabin to heat up to a comfortable level, and using the bathroom means walking outside – day or night – to use an outhouse.

Last summer while spending time at the lake with extended family, the talk turned to planning some winter trips. The idea took hold and last weekend, we made it happen.

I’m often guilty of having expectations that are too high, ending up disappointed when things don’t play out as perfectly as I imagine. As the weekend drew near, I daydreamed of perfect weather that would ensure snow on the ground but not too much. I wished for temperatures cold enough to maintain the snow cover and to keep the ice strong on the lake, but not so cold that we’d be forced back inside. I envisioned all of my kids and their significant others being able to join us. And I pictured all of us frolicking outside happily until we were exhausted and starving for one of those simple cabin dinners that always tastes best when every chair at the table is occupied. I had to keep reminding myself to take the weekend as it came, and not to be upset if everything wasn’t perfect.

I’ve made a concerted effort to find reasons to be grateful over the last year. Our winter cabin weekend made it so easy. I sincerely could not have asked for more. All of my kids and their significant others were able to join us, as well as Jack’s younger brother and his family. The weather was spectacular! Saturday was overcast with really comfortable temperatures. Sunday brought a clear blue sky, brilliant sunshine and temperatures just a bit colder than the day before. And we did it all!

I have to give credit to my brother-in-law who is just a big kid at heart. He talked Jack into participating in this weekend when I couldn’t. And once we were all at the cabin, he bounced around encouraging everyone to do this and try that. He was like a cruise director, making sure everyone was happy and having the best time imaginable! We rode sleds and tubes down the hill from the deck of the cabin down onto the lake. We made and threw snowballs. The guys did some ice fishing and the dogs ran, and ran, and ran! Thanks to my brother-in-law, I learned to drive a snowmobile as well as how to cross-country ski. The snowmobiling was exhilarating and fun! The skiing was more work than I’d imagined but such a peaceful experience. I definitely want to do more skiing.

After so much activity, I truly did work up a hunger such as I rarely feel. The food, though simple and convenient, tasted so good because it was shared with loved ones. When it was too dark to be outside any longer, we gathered around the table and played board games together, our voices growing louder as the night went on and laughter bubbling over easily. Leaving at the end of the weekend was, as it always is when departing from the cabin, bittersweet. I was anxious to get back home to a shower and a comfortable bed. But I was reluctant to see it all come to an end.

I needed this weekend. It was an opportunity to escape the sense of COVID fatigue for a while. And it is so rare that we’re able to gather all of our kids together in the same place for any length of time, much less an entire weekend. My heart swelled with love as I watched my kids talk and play together. I love seeing the incredible adults they have grown to be and the way they’ve grown closer to one another as they’ve matured. Everything about this weekend was simply amazing and I was literally overjoyed. Before I closed my eyes last night, I said a prayer of thanks for such a beautiful gift.

This is me not sleeping

Thoughts that daily make their way through my brain…

When this is over

When things are back to normal …

Maybe it will never be truly over. Maybe fragments of where we are now will stay with us forever. Normal might never be again what we once believed it to be.

I don’t always sleep well. Probably a symptom of my age. But sometimes I wonder if I’ve developed a permanent low level of anxiety (thanks to a virus) that prevents me from truly letting go long enough to sleep through the night. Maybe I haven’t. But maybe I have. Sometimes I can’t fall asleep for a long time, or I wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep. My brain doesn’t want to shut down. I think as normal as I try to make things, there’s a part of me that knows that none of this is normal and it makes me feel so unsettled sometimes.

I go through the days and I do my normal things. It’s kind of nice to be able to work at home, to have those extra minutes to get something done beyond driving to and from an office. I can toss a load of laundry in the washer in the middle of the day. Put some outgoing mail in the mailbox. Pull something from the freezer for dinner. Stop for a minute to hug and kiss my dog. All things I couldn’t do if this was the old normal and I was away from home for nine or more hours a day.

Sometimes I wake up in the night and my brain immediately wants some kind of reassurance that just isn’t to be found. No matter how much I try to tell it calming, fun, happy things, think about the best things in my life, or just breathe deeply in and out, my brain goes into overdrive and sleep won’t come back. When will I stop wondering every day if I’m going to catch the virus and – not that I’m very worried for myself – but what if I pass it on to someone else and do them harm? I can’t stop thinking about my poor mother-in-law in her little apartment for months on end without any real visits from family. It hurts my heart to hear the daily death count on the news, about the shortage of vaccines, and the mutating strains of the virus.

Maybe I can’t sleep because it’s impossible to truly relax while there’s no end in sight and the world just isn’t safe for everyone. (Not that it ever was, really.) But this virus!

Of course then I remember that this probably isn’t so bad in the grand scheme of things. There is an end in sight and I just need to be patient a while longer. My livelihood isn’t at risk which in turn makes me able think about (and do) more for others less fortunate. There’s plenty of food on the table. I can binge watch Netflix without the usual level of guilt. Got lots of time to read books or do some project around the house. I spend a lot more time outside – in the winter even – than I ever did before. I can go to work in leggings or sweatpants if I want to. All really great perks, right?

The view outside isn’t bad.

Imagine how terrifying it must have been to live in a time when you couldn’t protect your child from polio. When a vaccine couldn’t even be imagined. And when it could, it was years away. And I think I have trouble sleeping! This isn’t so bad then, is it?

Maybe normal is never coming back. Maybe the new normal is that time passes a little bit slower. And church isn’t a building. Maybe it’s forgiveness being extended more generously, not having to be first, loving others exactly for who they are and for who they aren’t. Hugs might be a little more scarce, but personally, I hope they come back in droves. Maybe the new normal is that we all have a lot more grace to offer.

Sometimes I wonder if the bigger purpose to all this is to deconstruct everything we take so much for granted, in order to take us down a few notches. Maybe when this is all over, the world is different, better in ways we never dreamed. I have to believe there’s a purpose for what is happening in the world today, this big thing that is beyond anything I could have imagined in my lifetime. I remind myself to live in it and through it, find something redeeming each day and not just constantly look for the end of it all. But I will be so happy to get beyond it.

Maybe this is why I can’t sleep at night. Then again, it could just be my age.

They Said I Do!

Our baby girl is married!

Chesney was a gorgeous bride, absolutely radiant. Farm Boy was so handsome, literally beaming every time he looked at his bride. I felt as if I might burst with the joy I felt for my daughter and new son-in-law.

Also, can I just say? My family cleans up nice!

Oh, how I prayed about this day, and not just the usual prayers for a young couple committing their lives to one another. I stacked prayers on top of prayers because while planning a wedding can be stressful during the best of times, no one could have imagined a year ago when they were engaged, what it would mean to do so during a pandemic.

Last spring after having already set the date, the venue informed us that due to the pandemic it now had to operate at a lower capacity. Lucky for us it’s a large venue and our guest list fell comfortably below those restrictions. Many guests declined their invitations from the start, but we were happily surprised that most others were still willing to attend. We worked with the staff at the venue to plan extra spacing between tables, making use of both the upper and main levels. We planned to seat guests either by household, or small numbers of those in the same bubble. The invitations stated that everyone should plan to wear a mask and we bought extras just in case, along with a multitude of hand-sanitizer.

Their wedding day would surely look different than what they’d dreamed, but Chesney and Farm Boy handled themselves with immense grace and patience (with just a few tears shed) along the way.

But as the November wedding date loomed closer, the impact of COVID-19 was rapidly increasing in our state. Three days before the wedding, our governor was to announce new restrictions. I sat on the edge of my seat the afternoon of the press conference, waiting to hear whether this would require us to cancel with only three days to go, or if we could somehow go forward. All along the way, the venue held us to the scheduled date, because as they explained, they were still allowed to be open. And we truly sympathized when the owner explained that if they rescheduled or refunded everyone who asked, they would go out of business. Long ago I told my daughter that while we’d already invested significantly in this wedding, money isn’t everything. If they wanted to cancel, we’d figure it out. Jack and I maintained this stance even now, but Chesney and Farm Boy decided to just roll with things as best they could.

As it turned out, there would be new restrictions for weddings and receptions, but not until just after our event. Still, I didn’t feel good about things. The governor had simply drawn a line in the sand. On the date of this wedding, we could gather a couple hundred people together in an enclosed space. Just a short time later it would no longer be allowed. I could not stop thinking about how the virus didn’t care about dates. People would still be at risk at this wedding. And in the days just ahead, upwards of forty guests called to tell us they weren’t coming. Some had already been personally impacted by the virus, others simply didn’t feel safe coming. At this point, I’d have been happy if our immediate families could just be there, but a good number of guests weren’t backing out. I felt like we were on a freight train racing out of control.

I’ve always been champion worrier, but now I was experiencing true and severe anxiety. That evening after the governor’s announcement, my brain kept reminding me we were being selfish to forge ahead. The remaining hours of that day dragged on for me and I lost the ability to focus on anything else. I began to feel a burning sensation in my chest which traveled up my throat and into my mouth. I was convinced I had the virus and I can’t describe the devastation I felt at the thought of missing my daughter’s wedding day. I frantically searched online for locations where I could be tested, but without displaying any of the typical symptoms, I couldn’t get a test before the wedding day. I kept all of this to myself until I burst out crying, telling Jack my worst fears.

Jack assured me I didn’t have the virus, but I didn’t believe him. I couldn’t sleep that night and woke up in the morning with the burning feeling still raging in my chest. Then I had a revelation … and took something to ease the effects of heartburn. Voilà! I quickly felt so much better. I had literally worried myself sick.

I felt a bit less anxious the day before, and on the day of the wedding I forced myself to pack my anxieties away in a dark corner of my brain. While my fears never truly went away, I’m happy to say that I was able to rejoice in and fully celebrate my daughter’s wedding day.

In the end, the number of guests who attended was just over a hundred, about half of the number we’d invited. People were really good about keeping masks on. We had to forgo hugging and handshakes, which was hard for a hugger like me. Some people left right after the ceremony, and some as soon as they’d finished dinner. Some of us still danced and it was FUN! But the whole thing wound down by around ten o’clock. Those who stuck it out told us how much fun it was, how good the food was, how happy they were to help us celebrate this amazing event.

Most importantly, my prayers were answered ten-fold. In spite of it all, my daughter got to marry the love of her life. The newlyweds were truly happy. I’ve said something to Chesney and Farm Boy many times throughout this year, and in my toast at the wedding reception, I said it again. If Friday the thirteenth is suspicious during a normal year, in a year like 2020 when we celebrated their wedding day, it can only be a magical day filled with blessings for the years ahead.

Coping, Cooking, and Missing My Kid

We’ve started our spring yard clean-up. It’s taking forever.

Jack’s workday begins at 5:00 am, so he’s home by mid-afternoon while I still have a good hour or so work. Every day, he pokes his head into my “office” and says hi, then goes outside to “do yard work,” which is code for “hanging out with the neighbors.” I can see Jack through the front windows. There’s rarely much actual work happening. Instead, I hear the loud conversations he carries on across the yards with the neighbors. They keep an appropriate social-distance and yell back and forth to one another. Jack will be out there for hours, with all of the necessary tools close at hand; the lawnmower, the leaf blower, work gloves, etc. Still, other than my corner memory garden, no yard projects seemingly ever reach completion.

I can’t really complain. We have friendly, good neighbors. And everyone has to find a way to cope with staying at home. Jack has found his. Work a little. Chat a lot. Do it all again the next day. I mean really … what else have we got to do?

Me? I’m walking. Every day around lunchtime, I go outside and head toward the nearby walking path. My neighbor-friend joins me and for thirty minutes we walk, share work stories, talk about the good books we’re reading, or ponder the complexities of life before we go back home to finish the workday. This is what gets me through these days. Sometimes I walk after dinner as well, earbuds in with an audiobook streaming from the Audible app on my phone. It helps me breathe and minimizes the sense that the walls are closing in.

Now I need something to spark my interest in cooking again. Actually, it’s not the actual cooking that bothers me. I just haven’t planned meals very well lately, and without a plan, cooking feels like such a challenge! One of my weekend goals is to spend time sifting through recipes and deciding on the week’s dinners. Also, I had an Amazon gift card burning a hole in my pocket (reward for participating in my company’s wellness program,) so I ordered an InstaPot. I’ve heard great things, so I’m hoping this will bring some life back to our meals. InstaPots not being considered an essential product though, I’ve got a couple of weeks to wait until it shows up on my doorstep.

Another weekend goal is to see my youngest. I’ve been extra-specially missing her this week. Our oldest son, Jaeger has stopped by a few times to pick up his mail that still comes to our address. He just moved in with his girlfriend last weekend (YAY!) so maybe he’ll officially file a change of address soon! Middle son, Ryker is living here, so I’ve been able to stay well connected with my boys. But I haven’t seen Chesney in person in … over a month? Six weeks? Feels like forever. We text a lot, call sometimes, and FaceTime now and then. I still miss her. She sent me a great picture this week though. Her transition to farm girl is coming along well!

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We’re going to try to connect this weekend, halfway between here and there. Farm Boy’s chores and the weather might dictate whether we manage to pull this off. But if all goes well, I found a park that looks good for us to have a nice social-distance picnic or a leisurely stroll.

Distance Visiting

We haven’t been able to see Jack’s mom in person since early March. She’s been in an assisted living facility since late last fall. Just before Halloween, she’d fallen at home and laid all alone on her laundry room floor for several hours, waiting for someone to realize she needed help.

I hate that this happened. And it wasn’t even the first time. This time it was a broken hip. After surgery and recuperating in a transitional care unit, Mom-in-Law and the family agreed that a senior living situation might be best. She took to her new digs easily, made some friends during her daily visits to the dining room, and all-in-all seemed to be doing much better than she had been at home. She was smiling again. She had a new enthusiasm because she had things to talk about when we visited. We all felt some peace of mind that had been lacking for a long time.

As the Coronavirus crept into the U.S., precautions were put in place at the facility. First, Jack was questioned upon entering the building a few days after our return from Mexico. Upon admitting we had been out of the country within the past fourteen days, he was told we could not come back for two weeks. (Luckily we had squeezed in one visit the day after our return from vacation before things got really serious.) Before our fourteen days were up though, the building was closed off to all visitors. And not long after that, residents were no longer allowed to leave their apartments.

We call Mom frequently, and she insists she’s fine. She says she’s not bored out of her mind and the Game Show Network keeps her entertained. She has a favorite caregiver who she mentions frequently, and that gives me some comfort. But we’ve been missing her.

Seeing the occasional story of others visiting their elderly loved ones at a window, we thought we’d try something similar. Mom’s apartment is on the backside of the building. She’s on the main level if you walk to her place through the front entrance. But the property slopes downward to the back of the building. On that side, her apartment is two floors up since the lower-level memory care apartments sit below at the ground level. However, there’s a little parking lot just beyond the back of the building which offered some promise. We made a plan with Mom, telling her we’d call when we arrived on Saturday and she could come to the window and see us while we talked on the phone. Son Ryker came along, and so did Lucy Pie. Grandma loves Lucy Pie!

The visit went well, even though it didn’t go exactly as planned. When we pulled in to the lot, Jack called and told Mom to go to the window. She said, “Okay. Just a minute.” And then she hung up.

Mom appeared in the window, without her phone, and she waved at us. We waved back. She waved again. Jack held up his phone and put it to his ear, trying to signal to her to get her phone. She waved again. “Just call her again,” I suggested. So he did.

We could tell the moment Mom heard her phone ring. She raised one finger at us as if to say, “Hold on!” And she ambled away from the window, returning shortly after she’d answered the phone. “You were supposed to stay on the line and keep the phone with you, Mom.” Jack said. “Oh,” she replied amiably. Jack put his phone on speaker and we all chatted with her for a while. A few geese were nearby, honking nervously at Lucy. Lucy pulled on the leash that Ryker held tightly and rumbled back at the geese. Mom thought this was quite funny.

Before we’d left home, I’d found an old box of sidewalk chalk in the garage and tossed it into the truck. As we chatted with Mom, I took it out and drew a few simple pictures on the asphalt, hoping she could see them. I guess it wasn’t obvious. She asked Jack what I was doing. He told her I was drawing for her. She laughed but was appreciative.

Watching us from the window required Mom to stand with her walker. She tired out after about fifteen minutes, so we said goodbye. After hanging up, Jack helped me put the finishing touches on the drawings, and before we left, we heard someone shouting from above. We looked way up to the top corner of the building where a window was open and two employees were waving and calling down to us. “Thank you! Thank you!” they said. “You guys are awesome! Can we take your picture for our FaceBook page?”

We proudly posed behind our artwork and allowed our pictures to be taken.

Those two employees made me feel so good! I realized that our efforts for Mom might brighten the day for a few others. Maybe I should get some more chalk and make this a regular thing!

Handling Things

The novelty of a reclusive lifestyle has begun to fade. I’m trying not to let my mind go too far in that direction though since the reality is this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve been working hard to maintain a healthy mental balance between being responsibly informed about the impact of COVID-19 and becoming over-saturated with information, opinions, and falsehoods. I think it was Tuesday when the evening news became just too much for me. I don’t want to bury my head in the sand, but I recognized the need to walk away sometimes.

Exercise helps. I work out every morning, except on Sundays. I shower, get dressed, do my hair and put on some make-up every day. I listen to an audio-book or an online sermon while I’m getting ready for my day. I’ve made a habit of saying a quick prayer while washing my hands, asking God to keep us safe, or asking for peace for those who have suffered losses. I remember that I’m fortunate to be able to continue working. At home. All of this helps. I remind myself that my struggles are far, far less than some are facing right now.

Jack and I started watching a series together on Netflix, one that was highly recommended by a friend and is very popular. I’ve struggled to stick with it lately. It’s great historical fiction, with fascinating, beautiful main characters. During normal times, I might completely lose myself in it. But some of the scenes are so graphically violent that it’s more than I can stomach. I walked away from that this week as well and started writing letters instead. When my mom passed away and we cleaned out her townhouse, one of the things I kept was a huge stash of greeting cards, the kind that charities send to their donors, I suppose in the hopes of ensuring additional donations. I chose a few colorful cards with pretty birds on the front and a thinking-of-you sentiment. I wrote to my mother-in-law and two aunts, filling the cards with chatty words and news about our family. It helped me feel connected to them, and I hope that receiving some personal mail will bring each of them a smile, especially as two of them are confined in senior living facilities. All are single and none can have visitors. Maybe I’ll make this a regular thing. For the elderly, who tend to be very lonely anyway, this must all be tremendously more difficult than it is for the rest of us.

So I’m trying to keep my sense of humor. If there’s one thing Facebook is good for, it’s the memes!ZYX

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This particular Saturday morning arrived with sunshine after a day of snow and chill. It holds the promise of a warmer day and I have plans to get outside and stretch my legs.

So we’ll keep getting through this. I’ll keep getting through this. One day at a time.

Why Am I So Hungry?

My sister texted me yesterday, just checking in to see how I’m doing. She told me that her sister-in-law’s husband, a doctor in the Chicago area has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Sister-in-law is a nurse and has been quarantined due to exposure. Her husband is pretty ill, but the family hopes he’ll be okay. He’s generally healthy, my sister said but is almost sixty-five years-old so, there’s reason to worry. Already, it begins to hit close to home.

Dire news aside, my sister really just wanted to chat. She said that she spent her weekend crocheting, crafting, cooking and listening to old Randy Travis gospel music.

Sidebar. I just have to add that the previous sentence probably does not paint an accurate picture of my sister who can also rock a pair of jeggings, down a few beers, and go shake her booty to a good rock band! She’s nothing if not eclectic. In a good way! 🙂

The more domestic side of my sister spent the weekend enjoying a slower pace, appreciating, as she said, the diminished self-absorption, and self-indulgence. She’s been cooking a lot and loves having her boys home for family dinners. 

Me too. I’m relishing a sense of calm for the time being. I’ve been planning meals and spending more time in the kitchen making home-cooked meals. We’re not spending needless money on take-out and we’re eating healthier. But the downside is that since I’ve been home, I feel like I’m hungry all the time! Why is that? I could call it stress-eating except as I said, I’m not stressed. So right now this is probably the one thing I miss about leaving the house to go to work. On going-to-the-office days, I plan and bring my food to work. I only pack relatively healthy stuff because once I’m out the door, what I’ve packed is what I get. There’s no room for mindless snacking … unless my cubicle neighbor, Paul decides he’s hungry for cookie and buys an entire box as he is wont to do, eats one, and leaves the rest in the break room. And even then, I can often just say no and walk on by. But not so much at home. Clearly, I’ve got some habits to work on.

So as my self-control was spiraling… On Sunday afternoon, I was tidying up the kitchen and putting a few things in the dishwasher when I noticed the bananas were overripe. “I should make banana bread,” I thought. Yes, I’m afraid to step on the scale, so why not make a cake that pretends to be bread? Good idea!

But really, I’ve been making better use of what’s around the house and didn’t want those bananas to go to waste. There are already more frozen bananas in the freezer than I know what to do with. So baking ensued.

I usually use a banana bread recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook that I received as a shower gift before our wedding thirty-ish years ago. But my bread always comes out with a big section of goo in the middle. (Chesney says the goo is the best part, but it’s just a little too raw for my liking.) If I leave the bread in the oven long enough bake away the goo, the outer part gets too done.

I have countless cookbooks on my baker’s rack, including my mom’s old Betty Crocker cookbook, copyright 1961. It’s a book that’s been well used, and after Mom died, I wanted it mainly because it’s filled with notes in her handwriting. I decided to see what this book had to say about banana bread.

The old cookbook offered a basic “white nut bread” recipe that could be modified to make other types of bread. (Although, who ruins their baked goods with nuts? Not me.) This recipe called for more flour than my usual one, two tablespoons of shortening instead of a lot more butter, one egg and some milk instead of two eggs, and way more baking powder than I’ve ever used while baking.

But the end result was good! Different, but tasty. There was still a little bit albeit acceptable amount of goo in the center. The bread was lighter in color, and less cake-like than my usual bread, but it had good banana flavor and got a big thumbs-up from both Jack and son, Ryker.

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Thankfully the bread won’t be around long. I know I can count on the guys to make it disappear quickly. Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear the ice cream calling my name…

Isolation Activities, Including Cows

Since Minnesota’s shelter-in-place order just became effective on Friday night, this is the first weekend we are officially expected to isolate ourselves. But like so many others, Jack and I had pretty much already been doing just that. Although he still goes to work every day, so he may not have as much of a sense of the walls closing in as I do. Still, the formality of the order has had a positive impact on him. He spent Saturday rearranging the furniture in our bedroom, deep cleaning the room, and purging things that are no longer needed. This wife is not complaining!

IMG_9517[2825]Me? My special project was to unpack, inspect, wash, and repack three dozen twelve-inch cylinder vases that were delivered this week.  Chesney and I ordered the vases last weekend. We’re going to make table centerpieces for her November wedding, which at this point, we still hope will happen as planned. (Our niece just canceled her May 9th wedding and is trying to figure out how and when to reschedule. She’s handling it all with grace and humor. Good for her!)

The vases were covered with a light film of dust, so the washing, drying and repacking helped pass a couple of hours. I was seriously impressed that only one was broken since all of this glass traveled from Texas to Minnesota. And the seller has a good replacement policy, so no worries. Each vase was packed in bubble wrap inside of its own box, then packed by the dozen in a larger box, which was packed inside yet another box lined with packing peanuts. I will definitely give this company my highest reviews!

This weekend’s weather hasn’t been ideal for the collective time-out that’s been imposed. It rained all day long on Saturday and Sunday arrived still very wet and gloomy. The temperatures dropped overnight so the day’s forecast includes snow. Needing to get outside of my own walls, I decided to go out this morning anyway and take a quick walk. If nothing else, I could breathe some fresh air, clear my head, maybe talk to God a little bit.

A steady sprinkle of rain was falling when I went out. I pulled my sweatshirt hood up over my head and made tracks in spite of it. Avoiding other people on the walking path was not a problem today. However, as I came near the farm just up the road, I realized that we humans may not be the only beings craving company these days. A few cows were out in the fenced area near a pole barn, but as soon as they caught sight of me, they came bounding over to the far border of the fence like a bunch of rambunctious puppies. I was tempted to pet them but thought better of it. So I just chatted with them a little bit. (They’re not great conversationalists, so I didn’t stay long.)

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Today I plan to cook a good old-fashioned Sunday dinner of turkey breast, mashed potatoes, and gravy. I might venture out to the grocery store for some salad fixings. Other than that, I have yet to figure out what activities will fill my day. And, wow! Just like that, I’ve realized that for the first time ever, I’m not dreading the end of the weekend and the return of the workweek.

Strange, Quiet Days

Lately, I have to focus on keeping fear from being the biggest thing I feel, thanks to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Some days I’m good. Others, I feel like I’m fighting off a heavy fog of anxiety. This is bad, this virus and its rapid progression across the world. I know. We should all be worried. But I also know that I have to find a balance between responsible worry and sheer panic.

I could never have imagined living in such strange times, and how quickly things escalate. Just a month ago, Jack and I, along with four friends, left for a week’s vacation in Mexico. We’d been hearing news of the virus in China for several weeks, but it still seemed so far away and somewhat irrelevant to us. Looking back now, I realize how easily my mind can brush off such grim warnings. Media hype has become so common that my first reaction to most news is skepticism. I remember while packing my suitcase, questioning whether we should cancel and stay home. The vacation was fully insured and we could have received almost a full refund had we chosen not to go. But just as quickly as the question came, it was swept away. I knew plenty of others who weren’t canceling vacation plans, and no one else in our group appeared to be worried. And so we went. The airports were busy as ever. The resort was full, and while there were daily reminders of the spreading virus, our tropical and relaxing surroundings kept it from weighing heavy on my mind. Our vacation was lovely and life seemed to march forward unperturbed.

One week later, by the time we were back home, the virus suddenly had the country’s and my full attention. Had our trip been scheduled one week later, I don’t think we would have gone.

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She likes to hold “hands.”

I’ve been working solely from home for the past two weeks and expect to continue to do so for at least another month. Maybe longer. Who knows? If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to expect the unexpected. I’m grateful that working from home was already an option. It means that I already had a comfy workspace set up at home, and I’ve long been familiar with logging in to the company network through the VPN and managing my workload away from the office. Lucy Pie keeps me company and seems to appreciate having me around all day long, though I worry how all of our pets will handle our transition back to normal workdays when the worst of this has passed. Fortunately for Lucy, I have the benefit of working from home whenever I like and have typically done so one day per week. I have space in the company’s office here in Minnesota, but since the rest of my team is in Wisconsin, it makes no difference to them where I work. I’m contemplating staying at home more regularly in the long run. I’ve begun to really appreciate the extra time and sense of calm I gain simply by not having to leave the house for nine or more hours a day.

Since the rest of my team is usually together in the same space, they are battling feelings of disconnectedness and loneliness. Our boss set up a daily team meeting to allow us some virtual time together. We can talk about work, or things completely unrelated. I struggled a bit to relate to her during my early days on the team, but it’s become very apparent to me now how hard our boss works to make sure we are all in good places. She’s hyper-focused on her team’s mental well-being. Even before all of this, she always made it a point to begin meetings by asking how everyone is doing. When something is off, she wants to help fix it. She’s interested in our personal lives and likes to hear about our families and pets. She’s big on mindfulness and even went so far as to buy a meditation app for each of us, which has been a godsend for me during these past few weeks. Having worked in the past for a supervisor who lacked any sense of compassion, I feel fortunate to have landed where I am. This pandemic has allowed me to be much more in tune with my team than ever before. Feeling disconnected is my norm. The daily opportunity to bond with the team has been a significant blessing for me.

I’m also grateful that a year ago, I quit my gym and joined an online fitness community instead. I’ve had all of this time to gradually build a supply of weights and other equipment. I’m already part of an amazing online community that encourages and uplifts one another on a daily basis. My daily morning workout has been a lifesaver in helping to manage stress and anxiety.

Being somewhat of an introvert, as well as a homebody at heart, I know that social-distancing has been easier for me to manage than most. One of my coworkers is an extreme extrovert, and this is really taking a toll on her. I try to call her often, rather than email or send an instant message. She’s made it clear that actually talking with others is a necessity for her.

I worry about my kids and my hubby. Somehow, all of their jobs have been deemed essential and none have the option to work from home.  While I’m grateful that all are fortunate to continue earning a paycheck, there’s a part of me that would rather just pull them in under my roof and keep them safe with me. The world is going to be a very different place very soon. I worry about their financial well-being and alternately remind myself that nothing else matters except that they stay healthy. Jack has autoimmunity with the potential to develop into an auto-immune disease. His doctor is closely watching it but I worry about his increased risk. Our kids have youth on their side, though we’re quickly learning that’s no guarantee either.

We’ve supplied ourselves with groceries over the past couple of weeks, but are by no means hoarding. Thankfully, I always buy a Sam’s Club package of toilet paper and had just purchased one before the craze ensured that TP would become such a hot commodity.

I’m trying hard to focus on gratitude during these days of isolation. My house has never been cleaner and the laundry is always caught up. And quite honestly, over the past few years, I’ve had a constant sense of unexplained pressure. My kids are all grown and I expected to feel more relaxed, and yet I always seemed to feel as if I was falling short somehow. If I was keeping up around the house, I felt bad that I wasn’t putting enough energy towards relationships with relatives and friends. The pace at work has been almost frantic at all times. And the more I heard about others’ experiences eating at new restaurants, seeing movies, visiting fun places, the more I felt as if I was falling short if I was living a quieter existence.

If there’s one thing that’s become apparent to me, it’s that maybe I needed to slow down and lower my expectations. I’d become so embroiled in trying to keep up with everything and everyone else that I’d abandoned almost all of the things that fueled my own soul. During these quieter days, I’m reading again, listening to audiobooks, online sermons, worship music, and podcasts that nurture my mind. Jack and I have found a series to watch together (rather than him spending time in front of the downstairs television while I sit in front of the upstairs t.v.) I’m so grateful that we had a relatively mild winter. The snow is gone and the temperatures have been warm enough to get outside and go for a walk, something I haven’t done in a long time. My neighbor and I have been meeting up during our lunch breaks to walk together (a healthy distance apart) and breathe in some fresh air while enjoying a change of scenery.

Something that occurred to me this week is that while the outlook seems so dire, many people are coming together, working to keep spirits up and support one another in whatever ways are possible. While there will always be many divides in this country … and the world, I appreciate the way people are virtually locking arms and creating a sense of community. I know the worst is yet to come, but we have to do the best we can to focus on the positives while we ride out this storm.